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Eyewitness Contests Israeli Account

By Jesse Strauss and Dennis Bernstein
June 13, 2010

Fatima Mohammadi was on board the Mava Marmara on May 31 when it was attacked in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine activists and wounded many more in stopping the Turkish-flagged ship from running the Gaza blockade.

After the attack, the Israeli government quickly released video showing the commandos descending by ropes from helicopters onto the top deck, followed by a melee as some activists resisted with sticks and knives.

But the Israeli video did not reveal the precise sequence of events, nor did it make clear why the Israelis resorted to so much lethal force that nine people were killed -- sometimes with multiple gunshots at close range -- and many others were left wounded. No Israeli commandos died, though some were injured.

In an interview, Mohammadi, who was lightly wounded herself, claimed that the Israeli video was misleading both in terms of how the clash began and how the massacre proceeded.

Mohammadi said she saw unarmed colleagues and friends shot and thrown into the Mediterranean Sea, some dying right before her eyes.

But she added that her experiences at sea and later in Israel have only solidified her commitment to what she calls the new civil rights movement.

An Iranian-American from Chicago, Mohammadi is committed to sailing again to break the siege on Gaza. Even as she recovers from her wounds, the 31-year-old is imagining her next trip to Gaza by flotilla. She says she's even planning to help finance a boat that leaves from Lake Michigan.

Mohammadi returned to Chicago after a grueling six days in Israeli custody. She says that what she witnessed on the boat was shocking and is important for her to get out to the rest of the world.

According to her eyewitness account, Israeli commandos opened fire before they left their zodiac attack boats.

“I said my morning prayers on the top deck … and as soon as I finished, about two meters away from me, a cameraman from Turkey, who speaks very little English, was shot twice by two different guns.

"One was with a rubber pellet on the forearm, and then in the back of the arm with a live round. I jumped over and turnicated his arm, and then myself and another brother carried him downstairs. He was bleeding profusely.”
Mohammadi also spoke about the chaos on the third deck, where the seriously wounded were carried, dragged even as they bled out all over the blood-soaked deck of the Mava Marmara.

She said the unwounded passengers were prevented by the Israeli commandos from treating the wounded, and the only doctor on board had been shot by the commandos.

“It was extremely gruesome. There was blood all the way down the stairs. … I literally was sliding on[it] as I was moving around.

"The volunteers had been bringing people down as they were shot, at very close range … and as we now know, based on autopsy reports, nine bodies had been martyred with 30 gunshot wounds, and most of the injured were similarly wounded, in the sense that none of them that I saw were shot once, they were all shot multiple times at very close range and almost all of them with live ammunition.”

When some of the activists tried to bring their most severely injured colleagues to an Israeli helicopter, to be treated for their wounds and flown to hospital for emergency care, the commandos on board, refused to act, and even prevented basic treatment that may have saved lives, she said.

“One of the last patients that I treated was a gentleman who was shot at close range in the left side of his head, but directly into his head," Mohammadi said.

"We were trying to control the bleeding and it was impossible to do. We resuscitated him multiple times, and he was very, very, very close to death. …

"[Other flotilla passengers] put this gentleman up on a stretcher, and the brothers were trying to take him up to the top deck because the helicopters were arriving to take the most critically wounded.”

“As the brothers were carrying these severely wounded individuals,” she said, ”the soldiers would beat the brothers, literally with the backs of their guns. …

"They would beat their hands and try to get them to drop the injured onto the ground, literally kicking them in the knees and hitting them on the back of the head with their guns. …

"There were four that died on the boat, and there were nine fatalities total.”

According to this math, five of the wounded people who made it off the vessel ended up dead. Whether their lives could have been saved by a different Israeli approach once the ship had been taken over is impossible to know.

One of the most haunting parts of the experience for Mohammadi was the fact that six people are still missing, and she is sure that the commandos threw several people over board—she wasn't sure if they were dead or alive.

“I heard splashes while I was going between the decks … and there are others who would corroborate that bags were placed over people’s heads and they were not sure whether they were dead or alive, and then they were thrown overboard.”

Many of the horrid images drawn by Mohammadi were corroborated by an hour-long video, released on Wednesday.

Filmmaker Iara Lee, another passenger, was able to smuggle it off the boat. The video, posted on Lee’s Web site, Cultures of Resistance, depicts scenes of wounded and dying people being carried up the bloody stairs, and those who tried to walk slipping between blood-spattered walls.

Despite the grisly scenes on the Mavi Marmara, Mohammadi said she plans to  continue her struggle to both support the Palestinian people and dismantle Israel’s stronghold on Gazan daily life.

Mohammadi said momentum for that change is growing, and in her words, “By land, by sea, by air or by prayer, we’re going to get there.”

Dennis Bernstein and Jesse Strauss based this report primarily on interviews done for "Flashpoints" on the Pacifica radio network. You can access the audio archives at You can get in touch with the authors at [email protected]  and [email protected].

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